Essex

Westcliff's Heather Purdham learns to paint using mouth

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Media captionHeather Purdham finds it difficult to grip a paint brush

A student who feared having to drop art because of a painful joint condition has learned to paint with her mouth instead.

Heather Purdham, 17, a student at Westcliff High School for Girls in Essex, has hypermobility syndrome.

The condition means her joints are loose and makes holding a pen or brush both difficult and painful.

Having taught herself to paint with her mouth, she has been awarded an A* in her A-level art exam.

Heather was diagnosed with hypermobility syndrome last December but knew something was wrong at the start of her AS levels, when the volume of writing she had to do increased significantly after GCSEs.

The condition affects all of her joints, but her ankles and hands the most.

"I was sitting in my art lesson and I was crying, it was really embarrassing," said Heather.

"My art teacher took me to one side and said 'if you want, you don't have to do this subject, but you're talented and I'm sure you can find a way around it'."

At first, Heather, who lives in Westcliff, tried holding a brush between her toes.

Inspired by the artist Alison Lapper, who was born without arms, Heather then tried painting holding a brush in her mouth.

Image caption Heather Purdham feared she might have to drop art before learning mouth painting

Heather said: "As soon as I realised I could do it with the dabs, I thought it looked really good and I don't have to drop art and I was overjoyed.

"Just because you have a disability doesn't mean you have to stop doing something.

'Tremendous inspiration'

"I think there are always ways you can adapt, even if it is not the conventional way to do things."

Heather's father Graham said her paintings reminded him of the work of Rolf Harris.

Peter Vinten, art teacher at Westcliff High School for Girls, said the painting Heather did for her A-level had filled her fellow students "with awe".

He described Heather as "a tremendous inspiration" and praised the "control of colour and shape" in her work.

As well as art, Heather studied psychology, geography and religious education. She did her written papers using a computer and got four A grades, two of them starred.

Heather is to study psychology at the University of York and hopes to specialise in paediatric psychology. She plans to continue with her art.

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